It's okay to not love every stage of parenting

<i></i>
 Photo: Getty Images

Before having her first baby, Mindi thought parenting a newborn would be nothing short of delightful.

"Thanks to those lovely Huggies and baby formula commercials, I thought the newborn stage would be filled with 99% smiling and some elevating off the floor from that 'new mum vibe'," says the 34 year-old.

Unfortunately, the reality was worlds away from what she imagined.

"I could barely crack a smile because I was depressed, angry and resentful toward my newborn baby."

While she loved her baby boy Elias, she hated having a newborn.

Things improved when Elias was about two months old as he started to settle into a routine.

"I finally got into the slipstream [and] he just got cuter and more fun by the day."

Elias is now two and a half years old and Mindi is enjoying this stage so much more.

"I spend as much time with him as I can, just enjoying and embracing this short window of time that he is little."

Advertisement

Many parents struggle through the newborn phase, says Clinical Psychologist Dr Nicole Highet, Executive Director of Centre of Perinatal Excellence, COPE.

"Whilst we may all expect that our connection to our newborn will be instant and powerful, for some this attachment is simply not there."

But what if your child is no longer a baby, and you don't love the stage she's at?

That's where Melbourne mum Ani is at. The 32-year-old has two young girls, aged 15 months and 3 years old.

She "naively" thought parenting a toddler would be easy.

"I remember thinking when my baby cried that it would be so much easier to parent a toddler who could actually tell me what they wanted.

"And whilst that's sometimes true, when she's lying on the floor having a meltdown, all the communication in the world won't fix the problem!

Though she found the newborn stage "tough," she says parenting a toddler takes the cake.

"Nothing can prepare you for how mentally challenging and exhausting the tantrums, power struggles and lack of communication can be."

Dr Highet says it's normal not to love certain stages of parenting.

"Babies and children go through different stages that bring with them different demands, challenges and these naturally evoke different feelings in all of us.

"You are only human after all."

Consequently, there will be times when you feel closer to your child, and times when "such warm feelings are rare".

But just because you don't love the stage your child is at, doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you.

"Not loving a stage of your child's life does not mean you don't love your child, nor that you are a bad parent," Dr Highet reassures.

There are lots of things you can do to make things easier during the tough times.

Firstly, Dr Highet advises openly acknowledging how you feel - without judging yourself.

What you do next depends on what stage your child is at.

If you're struggling to connect with your baby, Dr Highet says you might simply need to give it more time to form a tight bond.

However, she says it might also be worthwhile seeing a health professional who can offer support, especially if you have symptoms of postpartum depression.

Next, try to understand why you might be feeling this way.

Perhaps exhaustion is impacting your ability to enjoy your child, for example.

Then, find ways to bond with your child.

For a baby, that might mean engaging in baby massage or talking to your little one. For toddlers, it could be a simple as playing together.

"Even if you feel that you're 'going through the motions' - this action is providing an opportunity for connection to be established."

But if you're trying to connect with your child and you still don't love the stage of parenting you're at, take heart.

"Whilst it is hard, try and see this as a small stage in the journey of motherhood," says Dr Highet.

And if that doesn't help, remind yourself that your child won't be in this stage forever.

As Dr Highet reassures, "Difficult times will pass."